Civil Harassment Restraining Orders: Definition & Rules

Instructor: Amanda Smith

Amanda has taught adult cognitive-behavioral programs in a corrections setting for the last ten years and has a bachelor's degree in Sociology/Criminology.

What options does someone who is being harassed have to protect themselves? This lesson defines Civil Harassment Restraining Orders, and the process and consequences involved.

What is Harassment?

A man that Louise used to work with has started showing up at her new place of employment. He tells her that he will make her sorry if she doesn't talk with him and he repeatedly calls her during the night even though she has asked him to stop. This has been going on for two weeks and he appears to be getting angrier with her when she avoids him. She's frustrated by the situation, but is she being harassed?

Harassment occurs when a person knowingly abuses, threatens, or causes emotional distress to another person. The actions must be done on purpose over a short period of time. Many states consider three events to be necessary to be defined as harassment, while other states consider one serious act enough to count as harassment. Abuse implies that the physical contact has already taken place. For example, if someone was sexually assaulted or beaten, this would qualify as abuse. Threats, in this context, mean that someone is verbally stating that they will cause harm, either physical or emotional. For example, saying that a person will be choked if they do not comply with demands. Causing emotional distress means that a person is in serious fear that they are in danger and are living in a state of alarm or stress. In some states, stalking also falls under harassment, while in others it is its own category.

Using this definition, it initially appears that Louise is being harassed. A man is showing up uninvited to her workplace and he is making threats about causing her physical harm. He also will not stop calling her. His behavior has been going on for over two weeks and she is in fear and feels unsafe.

Civil Harassment Protection Order

Once a pattern of harassment has been established, a person is eligible to apply for a protection order. While the process varies by state, the general process is the same. A Civil Harassment Protection Order (CHPO) is a directive from the court telling the abuser to stop the actions that they were doing that made the order necessary. In order to obtain this type of protection order, forms must be filled out and filed with the court by the victim and a hearing will be scheduled. If the judge feels that the case is valid the order will be issued and the abuser will be served notice by local law enforcement. The order is not active until the abuser has been served and is aware that they are under a protection order.

Typically, a Civil Harassment Protection Order does not apply to someone's immediate family members, spouse, or someone that they were in a relationship with. It also would not apply to someone that the victim lives with or shares children with. These relationships would fall under a Domestic Violence Protection Order. Someone that is being abused by a distant relative, friend or acquaintance, or stranger would apply for a Civil Harassment Protection Order.

The protection order will give the abuser a variety of orders that they are to follow. For instance, it may state that they are to stay a certain distance away from the victim's home or workplace. It can demand that an abuser stop calling or contacting the victim. This type of order may stay in place for up to five years.

Applying this knowledge to Louise's case, we can see that she is eligible for a Civil Harassment Protection Order. We have already established that she is being harassed by someone that is only an acquaintance. Louise may now fill out the appropriate forms and file them with her local court to get a hearing date. It is likely that, provided the information of the case, the judge will issue a Civil Harassment Protection Order.

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